MILWAUKEE, WI, U.S.A.
U.S. AIR FORCE
CPT, 480TH TACFTR SQDN,366TH TACFTR WING,7TH AF, DA NANG AIR BASE, SVN
01/22/1968, HOA LO PRISON, HANOI, NORTH VIETNAM
On 9 November 1967 LT Lance Sijan was shot down over North Vietnam. The box of Christmas presents he had sent home remained unopened for years.
The ordeal of Lance Sijan—big, strong, tough, handsome, and a football player remembered as a fierce competitor began in a flight over Laos on November 9, 1967. LT Sijan’s F-4 was hit by enemy fire and exploded. He ejected from the stricken aircraft and managed to avoid capture for 45 days. He lived in the North Vietnamese jungle without food and little water. Virtually immobilized, he was alone. Because Sijan had lost his survival kit, he was unable to signal to rescue craft that attempted to locate him. He inched himself along to an open area that turned out to be the Ho Chi Minh trail. There he lost consciousness. When LT Sijan woke up, he was a POW in a North Vietnamese Army road camp. It was December 25, 1967.
The skeletal young man was moved to a temporary prison, the guards placed him in the care of MAJ Bob Craner and CPT Guy Gruters. Gruters who had been in Sijan’s squadron at the Air Force Academy, did not recognize Sijan. The three prisoners were transferred to Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi where Sijan contracted pneumonia and died. Craner and Gruters carried Sijan’s tale out of the “Hanoi Hilton”. They recommended him for a Medal of Honor. “[Lance] could have asked for help any one of a hundred thousand times, but he never asked for a damn thing!” explained CPT Gruters. Lance Peter Sijan died on January 22, 1968. His remains were recovered and returned home on March 13, 1974.
Mike Smith recalled he and LT Sijan talked about the Code of Conduct that governs military personnel who become prisoners of war. “We found nothing wrong with the Code. We accepted the responsibility of action honorable to our country. [The Code] was strictly an extension of Lance’s personality. When he accepted something, he accepted it. He did nothing halfway.”
MAJ Craner in writing his support for LT Sijan’s Medal of Honor stated: “He survived a terrible ordeal, and he survived with the intent… of picking up the fight… I don’t know how many we’re turning out like Lance Sijan, but I can’t believe there are very many.”
On 4 March 1976 President Gerald R. Ford awarded The Medal of Honor posthumously to CPT Lance Peter Sijan for his “extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his life…”